Launch of First GPS III Satellite Begins Modernization of the GPS Constellation


SpaceX, along with Boeing, has a contract to ferry American astronauts to the International Space Station as part of what's known as the Commercial Crew programme with Nasa, but the timeline for the first flights has slipped repeatedly.

SpaceX said that the GPS III, "is designed and built to deliver positioning, navigation, and timing information with three times better accuracy, and up to eight times improved antijamming capability".

The Falcon 9 rocket carrying a roughly US$500 million (RM2 billion) Global Positioning System satellite built by Lockheed Martin Corp lifted off from Cape Canaveral at 8:51 a.m. local time (1351 GMT). Mission requirements meant that SpaceX did not attempt to land Falcon 9's first stage after launch on this occasion.

The network now features 31 operational satellites, which orbit about 12,550 miles (20,200 kilometers) above Earth.

In addition, "we're going to see an increase in power", Col. Steve Whitney, director of the SMC Global Positioning Systems Directorate, said in the December 14 telecon.

According to Eschenfelder, the next GPS III satellite is set to launch in mid-2019 and additional satellites will be tested at Lockheed's processing facility in Colorado. It's the first in a series and nicknamed Vespucci after the 15th-century Italian explorer who calculated Earth's circumference to within 80 kilometres.

SpaceX is already under contract to launch four more GPS III missions.

The Air Force said that the launch was originally scheduled for 2014 but has been hobbled by production delays.

But it'll be a while before Vespucci, which was built by aerospace company Lockheed Martin, is fully up and running. "By this time next year, we expect to also have a second GPS III on orbit and users should be receiving signals from this first satellite".

The launch of this Falcon 9 was the last scheduled for this year. It is but one of 32 planned GPS III satellites that will replace older ones now in orbit. The company stated that this very launch was the 21st as well as the final year of the launch.

On Sept. 26, the Air Force awarded Lockheed Martin a $1.4 billion contract for support to start up the program and to contract the 11 and 12 GPS III satellite.